The week ahead: EPA nominee Gina McCarthy faces Senate committee vote

Given the EPA’s political nature as a regulator, Obama’s pick to lead the agency figured to be the toughest slot to fill on his energy and environment team. GOP lawmakers and industry have railed against EPA pollution and emissions rules they consider economically burdensome.

The EPA contends the economy would benefit from reduced healthcare costs and improved public health.

Capitol Hill will be buzzing with several hearings this week.

On Tuesday, two subpanels of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee will take on the proposed Keystone XL oil sands pipeline.

That committee is the latest in a series of House panels to address the Canada-to-Texas pipeline, which Republicans and centrist Democrats support.

The pipeline is under federal review and is at the center of a fierce political and lobbying battle.

Witnesses include Lynn Helms, who directs North Dakota’s Department of Mineral Resources, and Brigham McCown, a principal with United Transportation Advisors and a former senior official with the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration under former President George W. Bush.

Recently confirmed Interior Secretary Sally Jewell will make her first appearance as secretary before the Senate during a Tuesday hearing.

Jewell will represent the administration as the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior and Environment reviews the Interior Department's proposed budget.

Also Tuesday, the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Energy and Power will examine the geopolitical impact of expanding natural-gas exports.

The Obama administration is weighing 20 applications to send natural gas to nations that lack a free-trade agreement with the United States. Under federal law, such deals must be in the national interest, and therefore draw more scrutiny.

Export proponents argue shipping some to non-free-trade nations would give European allies a trading partner other than Russia, which dominates that market. Japan also is seeking U.S. natural gas to fill the energy gap the nation created when it shuttered 48 of its 50 nuclear reactors.

Witnesses include former Democratic Sens. Byron Dorgan (N.D.) and Bennett Johnston (La.), as well as Michael Breen, executive director with the Truman National Security Project.

The budget for the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management is the subject of a Tuesday hearing for a House Appropriations Committee subpanel.

Neil Kornze, principal deputy director with the bureau, will testify.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will mark up several hydropower bills and comprehensive energy-efficiency legislation on Wednesday.

The energy-efficiency bill, co-sponsored by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio), is viewed as a bellwether of congressional appetite on the issue.

The bill directs the federal government to employ energy-saving practices, creates voluntary efficiency standards for new building codes and establishes a state-based private financing program to encourage energy-efficiency upgrades.

Forthcoming federal rules on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, headline a Wednesday House Natural Resources Committee hearing.

Interior is expected to release draft rules governing the controversial drilling practice on federal lands soon.

Republicans and industry largely oppose the rules, contending they’ll be overly prescriptive and duplicative. They want states to continue regulating fracking.

But green groups and some Democrats want stronger oversight of the drilling method, which has sparked fears of pollution.

A House Appropriations Committee subpanel will tackle the EPA’s proposed budget during a Wednesday hearing.

Acting EPA Administrator Bob Perciasepe will represent the agency.

A Thursday House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Energy and Power hearing will discuss how electric utilities and regional operators are adjusting to changing energy inputs.

Utilities are using natural-gas-fired generation more frequently, while ramping down use of coal. At the same time, renewable energy is also coming online in greater volumes.

The hearing will discuss how those changes are affecting the reliability of the electric grid.

— This story was updated at 10:13 a.m.